Award-winning book about bees generates buzz

SFU professor Mark Winston writes in his book about how humans can learn from bees’ social nature. - Image by Janis McMath

SFU professor and renowned bee expert Mark Winston has just been awarded with the Governor General’s Literary Award for Nonfiction for his latest book, Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive.

Bee Time offers an insight into Winston’s work with bees over his lifetime, the issues that threaten bees in today’s world, and what we can learn from our buzzing insect friends about how we interact with nature and our own personal lives.

Winston has been at SFU for 35 years. After running a bee laboratory at the university and teaching in the SFU Biology Department for several years, he became the first director of SFU’s Centre for Dialogue and founded the ongoing Semester in Dialogue program in 2002.

Despite his long tenure spent at the Centre for Dialogue, Winston said, “I missed bees.” His ties to the beekeeping community and his own continued interest in the animal led him to author Bee Time, which was published in October 2014.

The bee-scholar expressed his desire to contribute something to the world of bees and to address the issues that wild bees and honey bees are facing today.

“Bees are facing kind of the perfect storm of human-induced problems,” he said, explaining this storm as “a complex mix of our policies around how we grow food.”

The current state of agriculture involves large acreages that only yield one type of crop. This lack of diversity leads to nutritional deficiency issues for bees, which Winston compared to “going into the supermarket and finding nothing but bananas.”

He added that bees are also suffering from the introduction of various disease carrying pests, as well as an exposure to “innumerable” pesticides. “All these things interact together to bring down both the wild bee and the honey bee populations,” explained Winston. “Really, it’s a very broadly-based issue about how we conduct agriculture.”

Bee Time delivers a multitude of lessons that Winston has learned from his time working with and studying bees — some environmental and some personal. He emphasized a need to reevaluate how we interact with nature and aim to strike a balance that doesn’t lead to what he sees as overmanagement. “We really need to back off the extent to which we’ve managed the world around us and learn to live in more harmony,” expressed Winston.

He also spoke to the sort of lessons to be learned from bees about how we carry out our day-to-day lives and interact with each other: “There’s a whole series of personal lessons where I talk about how we can learn from bees to be more present to the world around us, to focus better, to work collaboratively.”

On his blog, Winston posted about how he landed on “Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive” as title for the book. He explained, “‘Bee time’ refers to how time slows down in the apiary, alluding to that sense of presence and focus that beekeepers adopt when working their colonies.

“When we enter bee time, we find that bees are an extraordinary lens through which to view ourselves.”

A voracious reader and longtime follower of the Governor General’s literary awards, Winston was deeply moved to be recognized on a list of literary works he has appreciated for so long.

“To find myself on that list, to think that I’m contributing someway to the literary well-being of our country, it means a lot.”